The lure of a place like Bennett Spring and its trout park is easy to see, and it goes way beyond the fishing. In one compact package it provides a wide variety of outdoor activities and really nice amenities.
Of course the fishing opportunities are the primary draw, with open stream available from March 1 through Oct. 31 and Nov. 13 through Feb. 8. Open stream may be a overly generous description on opening day when crowds can be huge, but the option to fish later in the day during the regular season, or throughout the winter catch-and-release period, there can be plenty of time with fewer anglers.
During the regular season, fish are released each night from the on-site hatchery based on the number of permits expected to be sold the next day. Most of the rainbow trout are more than 12 inches long, and a few “lunkers” of three pounds or more get released to the stream during stocking.
Segments of the spring branch that leads to the Niangua River cater to different skill levels of anglers and types of fishing. One stretch only allows fly-fishing for the purists. A second area hosts casters with flies and other artificial lures, and Zone 3 is for natural baits and soft plastic lures only.
A daily fishing tag is required from opening day through Oct. 31. The cost is $4 for adults and $3 for anglers ages 15 and younger. During the catch and release season and outside the park boundaries on the river, an annual trout permit is required. The revenue from permit sales pays for the hatchery and fish that are fed and raised for anglers.
The hatchery pre-dates the park, which was purchased by the state in 1924. The history is evident throughout the 3,338-acre property and documented at the park’s nature center along with the ecology and natural environment of the spring and river system. Tours of the hatchery provide up close looks at fish that seemingly grow before your eyes as you walk past the raceways. The spring itself is quite impressive pumping out more than 100 million gallons of water per day.
The spring branch flows past cabins, campgrounds, a lodge with restaurant and store, and other park facilities including churches. Playground equipment and abundant, well-manicured flat ground is available for kids to run and have fun when the fishing is done.
Nearly 200 camping sites are available and can be reserved up to a year in advance. All of the campsites have electricity available, and 43 spots in Campground 1 have full water, sewer, and electric hook-ups.
Lodging options at the park include motel rooms, individual and duplex cabins, and recently remodeled four-apartment units. The motel rooms have refrigerators, and the cabins and other housekeeping units have one or two bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.
The daily trout tags and other required fishing equipment are available in the park store. Concessionaire Jim Rogers offers fly-fishing lessons for those wanting to learn the craft or improve their presentation.
Five hiking trails range in length from just more than a quarter mile to almost 7.5 miles. The oak and hickory forests are the primary feature of all the routes, but each have interesting elements of their own including natural and man-made structures. Caves, bluffs, upland and bottomland terrain, an historic cemetery, and a natural tunnel that is almost 300 feet long as it forms an S-curve through the hill.
Like all state parks, the site is managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The hatchery is operated by the state Department of Conservation. The two agencies work in coordination providing amenities and activities for everyone.
Originally published by Leader Publications Oct. 14, 2021.